A School Unlike Any You’ve Seen Before

Photography by Daniel Smyth


It’s an institution unlike any other in Cincinnati. Not because of Advanced Placement scores or extracurricular programs or high-caliber teachers – though it has all of these. DePaul Cristo Rey High School is a Catholic, college preparatory school with the unique goal of providing challenging courses available to low-income students who have the desire to continue their education.

In fact, if you can afford one of the other college-prep private schools in Cincinnati, you likely won’t be accepted at DePaul Cristo Rey. This has created an inspired classroom setting, because these students want to rise above their current circumstances and are offered a top-notch education on the path to higher education. Every student can recite the school-wide goal: “All students will graduate from high school and college.” 

But there’s something else that’s unique to DePaul Cristo Rey High School: Students are in the classroom four days a week; on the fifth day, they go to their job. Through the support of sponsoring companies and corporations in Cincinnati, students are able to spend one day working in a professional setting, from Mercy Health, to KMK Law and the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

“Because of the Corporate Work Study program, we have a bit of a longer school day and year, but this part of our program is integral to helping out students,” says principal Andrew Farfsing. “Through working for the companies, (students) earn money that helps pay their tuition.”

All families of students pay some tuition, with each family being assessed individually for what they can personally afford. This keeps the high-quality education at DePaul Cristo Rey open and available for all low-income students; the corporate partnerships and work study program are critical to this aspect of the school. But students aren’t just working for their tuition – they’re building relationships in the professional sector of the city, which might pay off in future job opportunities. 

“When you have that kind of professional interaction and that layer of mentorship, the student walks away thinking, ‘I can do that,’ ” says Sister Jeanne Bessette, president of DePaul Cristo Rey High School. “These experiences help our students to see more than just what’s happening now – that this is a future they can have, it shows them this is something they can attain.”

The work study curriculum also teaches students that they can take charge in their own lives, and that Cincinnati is their city too. It fosters professionalism, inspiration and determination in a generation that will someday be at the helm of Cincinnati and other cities. 

“We really want our friends and corporate partners to understand that they’re investing in the future of this student, but also in the future of Cincinnati,” says Bessette. “Their impact can be seen every single day – this is not just one act of occasional philanthropy. And these kids want to work as well and as hard as they can. They want to do their best.” She adds that, in order for the school to continue to grow, add extracurricular opportunities and courses, these corporate partners and friends are extremely important. 

DePaul Cristo Rey’s work study program and intense focus on college acceptance and completion are hallmarks of the Cristo Rey Network of which it is a member. “It’s important to point out that the Cristo Rey education model has produced proven results,” says Farfsing. “The Cristo Rey Network tracks data from its 30 schools across the county and that data continues to show that graduates of Cristo Rey schools are enrolling, persisting in and completing college at twice the rate of their low-income peers.” 

Although the work study program is at the core of DePaul Cristo Rey, the curriculum is also challenging. The school year is long and the work study programs can be tough – but the students are determined and ready to do what it takes to graduate and move on to higher education. The school, which just started its fifth year, is growing and adding new opportunities each year. In the spring, the first graduating class received their high school diplomas and achieved a 100 percent college acceptance rate. This isn’t an easy feat in a school that pushes students in ways they may not quite be accustomed.

“These kids do five years of schooling in four years,” says Farfsing. “They struggle sometimes, but there’s a sense of accomplishment. They have to want to do this.”

The school works to empower its students as well, to keep their personal feeling of accountability high and to help them thrive personally, academically and spiritually. 

“These staff members are so eager to give these kids the best,” says Judy Vann, whose daughter is entering her senior year at DePaul Cristo Rey. “They’re truly there for the children, and they really care – and it’s a real kind of caring, not just what’s expected of them. These students are nurtured. They’re always free to go to their teachers for help at any time, and nine times out of 10, these teachers will drop everything for them.” 

Vann’s daughter, who wants to attend college and specialize in music studies or audiology technology, has been driven to do her very best since day one. Although Vann says much of this drive and ambition comes from her daughter herself, the faculty has always pushed her to do her very best.

 “She’s had goals – she said she was going to get perfect attendance, and in three years she has,” says Vann proudly. “She wants to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. I like the choices she makes, and a lot of it comes from the staff’s encouragement – I can’t say enough about this staff.” 

Her daughter has worked in the work study program with E.W Scripps Company, the Taft Museum and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, as well travelling on mission trips and participating in several extracurricular activities. 

“The school is so new, and since they opened they’ve kept trying hard to make it better – that impresses me. I’m excited about this school year,” says Vann.

Her daughter has her heart set on attending Bellarmine University in Louisville after graduation, thanks to the tremendous support and help from the staff of DePaul Cristo Rey. 

But Vann is not an exception to the rule at this school – each student is given their best chance to succeed to the fullest extent of their potential. Because of the aid of the faculty and staff at DePaul Cristo Rey, and corporate partners participating in the work study program, the school is a unique combination of challenging curriculum, real work experience and nurturing encouragement. 

“Our program not only creates better lives for our students – it will have a ripple effect in this city,” says Bessette. “These future college graduates can break the cycle of generational poverty that exists in many of their families. That, in turn, impacts everyone who lives in Cincinnati.” 

For more information about DePaul Cristo Rey High School or to learn how to become a donor or corporate partner, you can reach them at 513.861.0600 or visit their website at www.depaulcristorey.org.